After Pro Bowl snub, Bears DE Akiem Hicks motivated to take next step

They can’t accuse defensive end Akiem Hicks of being a ring-chaser.

On the contrary, Hicks turned down an opportunity to stay with the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots last season to sign with the Bears, who won three games and are in full rebuilding mode.

‘‘I was happy for them,’’ Hicks said of the Patriots. ‘‘You want to be in that position, but you can never be mad at someone else’s success. They were on Instagram at their [championship] ring party. It makes you envious; it makes you want it more.

‘‘Seeing any team succeed at the highest level should motivate you if you’re a competitor. I’m not a Golden State fan — Laker Nation all day — but watching them succeed, it makes you say: ‘Man, I want that feeling. I want to be in the locker room with my guys, throwing champagne in the air and spitting it out, like Kevin Durant did.’ ’’

Defensive end Akiem Hicks (96, sacking the Vikings Sam Bradford last season) had seven sacks in his first season with the Bears in 2016. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

If Hicks ever wins the Super Bowl with the Bears, he’ll be able to celebrate proudly as someone who helped take a team from the bottom to the top of the mountain instead of a jumping on the fastest-moving train.

Hicks had no regrets about signing with the Bears before their difficult 3-13 season in 2016. And he still has no regrets after seeing his former Patriots teammates win the Super Bowl without him.

‘‘Not in the slightest,’’ he said. ‘‘Because one of the reasons I came here was . . . a chance to rebuild. I had a chance to be a part of something growing. Being a prominent player [on the Patriots], I enjoyed that aspect of it. I think it’s going to benefit me going forward.’’

Hicks’ ascent as an impact player is a key to the Bears’ hopes for a quantum leap from 3-13 to playoff contender. The 6-5, 336-pounder was as good as advertised last season, a player who took the next step with full-time snaps. He had 71 tackles (50 solo), seven sacks, three passes defended, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. And he was better at the end of the season than the beginning.

But recognition for that production was hard to come by. Hicks wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl and wasn’t even an alternate. That’s an omission he understood as a player on a three-victory team, but it’s one he won’t forget.

‘‘I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t compare myself to other guys in the league,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘I will say this: I know there’s a couple of guys that went to the Pro Bowl last year at the defensive end/defensive interior position that I’ve made way more plays and played better than. That’s just part of the game.

‘‘There’s going to be guys that get in if they have the right city, the right time, the right things going on. And team wins play a big part in that. The more success for your team, the more spotlight gets put on you. [But] I do compare myself as one of the better defensive interior guys in the league.’’

When it comes to snubs, Hicks has a long memory.

In his days at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan in 2011, Hicks still remembers being overlooked for the award as the best defensive lineman in Canadian college football. A player who had won the year before got it with less
impressive stats.

‘‘He had 26 tackles and four [actually seven] sacks; I had 54 tackles and, like, 6½ sacks,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘And he got [the trophy]. You never forget. Just like I just quoted you his stats, you never forget.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

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